On this ‘Black Friday’ let us consider our relationship to possessions. For they are more than simple objects; we use them as evidence of our identity, status, taste, & wealth.
Thorstein Veblen in ‘Conspicuous Consumption’ links our need for display to our ancestors. Comparing a modern fancy car to a hunter’s mighty kill; he states that our possessions are how we show our efficacy and success to others.
This begs the question: are possessions an accurate reflection of our success?
Consider a thought experiment. Man A and Man B are paraded out before you. Man A is wearing jeans from Costco and a Carhartt jacket and shirt. He drives a 2002 Dodge Ram. Man B is wearing a suit and tie. He drives a BMW SUV. Which is more successful?
Consider two further scenarios.
Scenario 1: Man A is a small business owner. He makes a good living and is well respected in his community. He has a wife and two kids. They spend weekends skiing in the winter and boating in the summer. Man B is a very busy attorney. He makes a great deal of money. He does not have time for a family or for hobbies given his work schedule. He travels extensively and works on very important files. Which is more successful?
Scenario 2: Man A and Man B work at the same shop; one in sales and one as a mechanic. The two men earn the same amount of money and have the same savings. Man A has spent his money on tools and a cabin. Man B has spent his money on a fancy apartment and nice car. Which is more successful?
This experiment was purposely explained to you without a definition of success, in the hopes your internal definition would come forward.
The point I wish to make is this: our success or failure is internally defined, and thus invisible to the eye. Possessions do give us information about a person. They indicate a person’s taste, or what they deem important. They do not however signal a person’s value.
“These reasonings do not cohere: I am richer than you, therefore I am better than you; I am more eloquent than you, therefore I am better than you. On the contrary these rather cohere, I am richer than you, therefore my possessions are greater than yours; I am more eloquent than you, therefore my speech is superior yours. But you are neither possession nor speech.”
- What definition of success came out in the thought experiment?
- Why do we need to express our success to others?
- What is your identity based on? If you lost all your possessions would you lose your sense of who you are?